Just when you think it can’t get any worse, New York City FC play a game like this one.
Unfocused, predictable, self-sabotaging: The electric team that dominated FC Cincinnati on Wednesday were nowhere to be seen. First NYCFC gave away an easy goal to Charlotte FC in just the fifth minute of the game, then failed to take advantage when the opposition were reduced to 10 players after Christian Fuchs received a red card in the 56th minute.
Once again, NYCFC threw away a winnable game against a team that have struggled recently and sit below a playoff spot. Injuries and suspensions forced New York City to play three in the back and start an inexperienced Vuk Latinovich in defense. That goes a long way to explain the early defensive lapse that led to Charlotte’s lone goal, but this poor result rests firmly on the shoulders of an NYCFC attack that forgot how to finish. While other teams manage to score with the few chances they create – Charlotte had just one shot on target – NYCFC can be maddeningly wasteful.
A more opportunistic team would have battled back after falling behind, then put the game away once they had a one-player advantage. But this NYCFC aren’t that team, and have now taken just five points out of their last 10 games. That’s the second-worst run of form in club history, trailing only the (understandably) poor results New York City put up at the start of the inaugural 2015 season.
That’s not the company an MLS Cup-winning team wants to keep.
NYCFC: 12 shots, 1 on goal, 52.4% possession, 460 passes, 88% accuracy, 14 fouls
Charlotte FC: 8 shots, 1 on goal, 47.6% possession, 422 passes, 81% accuracy, 12 fouls
About that lineup
For one game, NYCFC almost fielded a full-strength squad — we’re referring to Wednesday's 1-1 draw with FC Cincinnati, of course. Earlier today, a team depleted by injuries, suspensions, and squad rotation played a Charlotte that had their best Starting XI on the field. With Maxime Chanot (yellow card accumulation), Thiago Martins (red card), and Alfredo Morales (injury) all unavailable, Alex Callens, Tayvon Gray, and Latinovich lined up in the back with Andres Jasson and Thiago as wingbacks.
What could go wrong?
With Justin Haak and Gedion Zelalem getting the start over Maxi Moralez and Santi Rodríguez, who were both rested for squad rotation, Charlotte dominated the midfield — and the flow of play. They started to attack early and often, earning a corner kick in the fourth minute and then heading a ball off the post. The goal Daniel Ríos scored one minute later wasn’t inevitable, but it wasn't unexpected as they took their chances against a defensive line that seemed a little unsure of themselves. They continued to control the midfield and keep the majority of possession until Charlotte captain Christian Fuchs was sent off in the 56th minute for elbowing Gray in the face.
The good news: The defense composed itself, and muted the Charlotte attack for the rest of the game. Latinovich kept his head and put in a solid 90 minutes, making 5 clearances, 7 interceptions, and 5 recoveries. He won both ground duels he contested, and 2 out of 3 aerial duels for a team-best FotMob rating of 7.6. Well done, Vuk.
If the rest of the team had stepped up laske Latinovich did, we would be looking at a very different result.
You need to score to win
New York City have scored just three times in their last five games. That’s a problem.
The lack of productivity up top is arguably the most perplexing and aggravating feature of the team’s current slump. In their last five games, NYCFC have taken 66 shots, 20 on target, but have converted only three times. This inability to finish takes different forms. On Wednesday against Cincinnati, NYCFC took quality shots that were parried by the keeper and the woodwork; today, poor service and indecisive dribbles made the team’s attempts look more like Hail Marys than well-drilled shots.
There were lots of almost, but almost isn’t good enough.
Effectively, NYCFC gave up their one-player advantage by lifting soft crosses into the mixer and hoping that Héber or could get the job done. Why not play more directly, and create chaos inside the Charlotte box? Hard to say. The NYCFC attack didn’t make the adjustments needed to put the ball away, and instead stuck to the same rinse-and-repeat game plan: Get possession, move the ball wide, make a cross.
To misquote Shakespeare: My kingdom for a dribble, a cutback, a give-and-go up the middle.
Trouble with Thiago
No NYCFC player crowned himself in glory today, but Thiago deserves to be singled out for his poor performance. He was a human cul-de-sac, a player who did his most to end NYCFC’s pass sequences. Giveaways, poor dribbles, misplaced balls. He did it all.
Thiago has turned the left side of the attack into a dead zone. Opposing teams must know that they can easily disable him, allowing them to concentrate on neutralizing Talles Magno in the center. He was the poorest player on the field this game, and confoundingly bad against Cincinnati. It’s a shame. We’re big fans of Thiago here at Hudson River Blue, and we know what the player is capable of accomplishing — he has the technical ability and energy to single-handedly destroy the other team. Unfortunately, he’s the biggest liability on the squad right now.
Is it time to bench Thiago, move Talles Magno back to the left and put Héber in the center? Maybe. This attacking lineup isn’t working, and despite the best attempts from this team to scuttle the season all isn’t lost. There’s the Campeones Cup against Atlas on Wednesday, the Hudson River Derby on Saturday, and – hopefully, possibly, maybe – the MLS Cup Playoffs.
In other words, there are plenty of opportunities left for NYCFC to crush our hopes.
Charlotte, Daniel Ríos 5’
NYCFC, Andres Jasson, bad foul, yellow card, 47’
Charlotte, Christian Fuchs, violent conduct, red card, 56’
NYCFC, Santiago Rodíguez, bad foul, yellow card, 74’
NYCFC, Alexander Callens, yellow card, 90+4’
Charlotte, Anton Walkes, yellow card, 90+4’
Charlotte, Brandt Bronico, bad foul, yellow card, 90+6’
Charlotte, Andre Shinyashiki, bad foul, yellow card, 90+9’
Referee: Victor Rivas
Assistant Referees: Chantal Boudreau, Jeffrey Greeson
Fourth Official: Fotis Bazakos
VAR Referee: Joseph Dickerson
Assistant VAR Referee: Craig Lowry